Great Falls Chamber of Commerce
2009 Legislative Session
Prepared by: Ronda Wiggers – lobbyist
The Great Falls Chamber did not request that any legislation be brought
on their behalf in the 2009 legislative session. We have, instead, offered
our support on those bills that we felt would be good for business and our
community and opposed those that are not.
The Great Falls Chamber joined with the other Chambers in the state and
the State Chamber to address the high cost of Worker’s Compensation.
Montana is currently #2 in the nation in cost and our injury rates are high
in almost every category. We opposed legislation that would potentially
increase rates. We supported bills that encouraged workplace safety,
return to work incentives and clearly defined when an employee is
considered to be at work.
The Chamber also participated in the negotiations on the property tax re-
appraisal mitigation. The Montana Constitution mandates that we will
appraise all property at market value. In order to accomplish this, the
legislature has set up a six year cycle in which to re-evaluate property.
The values that were arrived at this cycle caused concern. First, the
increase in value in the last six years was dramatic (55% statewide) and,
second, property values have begun to drop in some areas since the
appraisal was completed. State law already limits the amount of actual
dollar increase any government entity can receive due to a re-appraisal to
one-half of inflation. However, by changing the taxable value on different
classes of property, the law can determine how much of that increase is
paid by what property owners. This is the basis for the mitigation.
In the end, the legislature chose to use the same methodology that has
been used in the last two cycles. Although this is not necessarily perfect
tax policy – in the big picture, it does shift the burden from west to east
and from homeowners to industrial and business property – it was the best
option this session.
As Great Falls and Cascade County did not see an average increase in
value of 55%, the mitigation will actually cause some taxes to slightly go
down locally. Remember that the local governments can “float” the mill
levy up to collect the same amount of actual dollars. This float will
probably create a situation where most of us have virtually no change in
our property tax bill due to the re-appraisal.
The Chamber was also concerned about the funding level for the local
College of Technology. The November version of the Governor’s budget
did not fully fund them at current levels and the final submitted budget cut
their funds even more. We visited with members of this sub-committee
and made them aware that the Chamber and our local business members
support fully funding the College of Technology.
The Chamber actively supported the use of stimulus money to fund
building projects at the College of Technology. The original request was
for $2.5 million in order to create a simulated hospital in the basement of
the new addition and to build a daycare center on campus. The final
allocation was for $1.6 million with the authority to spend up to $2 million
if the additional money is raised in private funds.
We also offered support in obtaining a number of appropriations for local
The following projects are included in appropriations for Great Falls:
In HB 5 - Long Range Building, there is $275,000 for MSDB for energy updates to their
In HB 6 - Renewable Resource Grants there is $100,000 for the Upper Lower River Road
Phase 3 of the Water and Wastewater System and another $100,000 for the Gore Hill County
In HB 7 - Reclamation Grants, there is $300,000 allocated for the old Cascade County Shop
area and another $286,792 to the Cascade County Commission for "sustainable water supply
from the Madison Aquifer".
In HB 9 - Cultural and Aesthetic Grants, the Great Falls Symphony is scheduled to receive
$10,000; Paris Gibson $13,900 and the Mansfield Center $5,000. If the funds are available, the
History Museum will also get $2,000.
From the Treasure State Endowment fund is another $500,000 allocated to the Upper Lower
River Road Water and Sewer District.
The 2009 session was fairly successful. Virtually all of the bills that we
opposed did not become law. However, on the flip side, only some of
what we supported passed into law. The following is a list of those bills
that we were following. In some cases we offered testimony. In others,
we simply spoke to individual legislators about the potential impact the
law may have on business.
Although some of the titles seem to indicate a good idea, the details of the
bill often were onerous to Montana businesses.
Bills that the Chamber opposed that did not become law:
HB 49 Restrict cell phone use while driving
HB 199 Revise allocation of lodging facility use tax
HB 252 Sexual orientation/Gender identity in human rights law
HB 254 Monitor & report on greenhouse gas emissions
HB 435 Close gender wage gap
HB 450 Prohibit retaliation over job-related grievances
HB 452 Limit health care info subject to Work Comp
HB 556 Require verification of work authorization status
HB 579 Paid sick leave including for domestic violence as minimum labor
HB 580 Revise UI benefits and eligibility
HB 589 Revise WC on occupational disease issues
HB 647 Non resident withholding on sale of real-estate
HB 651 Revise tax law
SB 36 Revise waters edge provisions of corporate taxes
SB 109 Restrictions on outdoor lighting
SB 190 Bed tax for heritage sites, etc
SB 211 Prevent corps from channeling income to insurance subsidiaries
SB 277 Box Store Tax
SB 285 Revise attorney fees for medical benefits for WC
SB 318 Code of Corporate Responsibility
SB 377 Prohibit business expense deduction for unauthorized aliens
SB 379 Create offenses concerning unauthorized aliens
SB 459 Repeal capital gains tax credit
Of course, we did not have all success. There are a few bills that we
were working to pass that did not successfully survive the process.
Bills we supported that did not survive:
HB 64 Repeal termination on coal trust funding for economic development
(this bill was replaced with HB 123 by request of the sponsor)
HB 148 Clarify work comp going and coming to work status
(this bill was tabled so that a better drafted bill could go forward)
HB 240 Reduce business equipment tax
HB 428 Revise requirements for technology districts
HB 440 Small business consideration act
HB 547 Small business impact of administrative rules
HB 566 Revising environmental impact statement laws
SB 218 Tax credit for employers of National Guard members
SB 253 Allow tip credit against minimum wage
SB 254 Remove inflation index from minimum wage
SB 304 Keep our Kids Here tax credit
SB 315 Revise Class 8 business equipment tax
SB 387 Revise laws related to the Board of Environmental Review
SB 398 Revise Workcomp and Unemployment law
SB 490 Increase class 8 business equipment tax exemption
There are a number of bills that the Chamber supported that successfully
became law (or are currently on the Governor’s desk waiting for a
signature) Ironically, there are no bills that we actively opposed that
HB 71 Repeal sunset of hospital bed
This program is important to the hospitals as it creates a 3 to 1
federal dollar match that helps backfill their losses from Medicaid.
HB 101 Extend deadlines related to wage w/h in cases of theft
This bill extends from 15 to 30 the number of days that an employer
has to press charges and withhold wages against an employee
accused of theft.
HB 123 Extend termination date on coal trust funding for Economic
Although this bill reduces the amount allocated to Growth in
Agriculture and the Research & Commercialization fund, it
extends the life of the program thru 2019.
The Senate restored the original funding for Growth in Ag. The
Governor then amendatory vetoed the bill and the conference committee
adopted the Governor’s amendments. The bill has been sent back to his
desk for signature.
HB 128 Revise appropriations for aerospace and tech projects
This simply made a technical change to this law that may allow it
become a usable program. However, the Governor’s Budget office
must “sign off” on any bonding done thru this program. With the
current economy, it is not very likely. We did support.
HB 483 Revise laws governing BER related to energy projects
HB 529 Generally revise MEPA
These are the bills that have received all of the recent press. They
are an attempt to streamline the permitting process and to mitigate
some of the timing issues caused when permits are appealed.
The Governor has not yet signed HB 483. Although he did not sign
HB 529, he allowed it to become law under the 10 day rule.
HB 451 Require disclosure & warranties by builder or developer of
This bill is requested by the Homebuilders Assoc. and pretty
much does what the title indicates.
HB 487 Classify as business inventories certain farm implements &
This bill is at the request of the Equipment Dealers Association and
is correcting a tax issue that was created by a change in a dept rule.
HB 621 Authorize local govt beer & wine license for certain facilities
This is allowing the Cascade County fairgrounds to legally take
over the liquor license.
SB 89 Eliminate sunset for new worker training program
This extends a very popular economic development program.
Although the program was extended, it was poorly funded. The
Legislature allocated just over $3.7 million and it is to be shared
with the “re-training” program as well.
SB 192 Small business work comp relief
This provides small business an opportunity for work comp relief by
allowing pooled risk groups and a return on premium based on
reduced losses to employers that implement safety incentives.
SB 257 Revise Definition of Renewable Energy Resource
This will allow the new generation at the hydro plant to be
considered in ‘green’ energy calculations.
This bill has just been sent thru the process to the Governor’s
desk and it will be mid May before we know if it becomes law.
SB 371 Clarify applicability of “at work” for work comp
Attempts to deal with the recent Supreme Court ruling on when an
employee is on work time and when they are on their own time.
The Governor issued an amendatory veto on this bill. The
conference committee voted to NOT accept the Governor’s amendments
and sent it back to him in it’s original form. We will not know until mid-
May whether this becomes law.
SB 388 Incumbent workforce training
This was a successful pilot program in Billings allowing for
current workers to be re-trained. The original bill only extended
the program to certain regions of the state. We were successful
in amending it to include all of the state.
SB 503 Montana Economic Stimulus Act
This lowers Montana capitol gains taxes when a Montana business
is sold if it was held for a number of years. It also encourages
the purchase of business equipment that is manufactured and/or
assembled in Montana.
This has just been sent to the Governor’s desk and we will not know
until mid May if it becomes law.
There are a number of pieces of legislation that although the Chamber felt
they were not necessarily good or bad for local business, if passed, they
would make a change in the current law. We simply monitored these bills
in order to keep our membership informed of changes in the law.
Bills of interest (we did not take a position on these) that died:
HB 35 Revolving loan program to fund recycling machinery
HB 113 Revise tax of new or expanded business enterprise property
HB 143 Nonprofit corporation registry
HB 157 Implement healthy kids initiative – funding debate
HB 235 Revise limited liability company
HB 303 Revise limited liability company act
HB 339 Revise limited partnership act
HB 347 Revise 3rd party bad faith litigation
HB 375 Create a bipartisan committee to evaluate climate change initiative
HB 391 Establish criteria for enforceable noncompete agreements
HB 396 Limit interest rate on title and deferred deposit loans
HB 444 Require prevailing union wage in local govt privatization contracts
HB 564 Prohibit local govt competition with private sector
HB 582 Green jobs training
HB 590 Define domestic partners and establish benefits
HB 625 Workers’ freedom act
SB 37 Revise income tax credit for energy conservation expenditures
SB 142 Repeal unisex insurance law
SB 363 Exempt speaking at public function from WC
SB 378 Limit WC for unauthorized aliens
SB 397 Revise payday & title loan law
SB 399 Right to work
SB 431 Revise laws on employer drug testing - medical field
SJ 10 Study options for state work comp coverage
Bills we just monitored to report their outcome to our members that did
HB 76 Generally revise unemployment insurance laws –
- department revisions
HB 119 Revise employment laws, including work comp –
- department revisions
HB 138 Revise employment safety & occupational health act –
- department revisions
HJ 15 Study resolution on funding for recreation and tourism enhancement
SB 42 Provide substitution procedure for work comp judge
SB 132 Clarify taxpayer confidentiality and exchange of info laws among
SB 150 Revise unemployment insurance law – department revisions
SB 200 Restrict phosphorous cleaning products in certain areas –
- this bill currently pertains mostly to the Missoula area
- the product manufacturers were not in opposition
SB 260 Revise tax on publicly traded partnerships –
- affects only about a dozen companies in Montana
- has not yet been signed by the Governor
SB 308 Revise calculation of standard prevailing wage rates
As you can see, most of the bills that we had in a “monitor only” status,
that became law, were department requested changes in worker’s
compensation, unemployment or payroll. We will ask an expert in this
area to provide an update on these changes at a later date.
Voting records for our local legislators are attached. I did not use any of
the funding bills as they are large, very encompassing bills and do not
necessarily indicate a vote for or against a specific project. I generally
used only final, 3rd reading floor votes.
A couple of exceptions:
First, HB 483 in it’s final version contained the Governor’s
amendments. They substantially ‘watered down’ the original bill. For
information sake, I provided the 3rd reading vote for the first version as
well as the final version.
On SB 371 the final house vote on the conference committee report
for the Governor’s amendments is more of a procedural vote. I “backed
up” and used the 3rd reading vote prior to the Governor’s amendatory
veto. That is the version that ended up going to the Governor in the end.
I greatly enjoyed representing the Great Falls Chamber this legislative
session. Your staff and the Public and Government Affairs committee
were great to work with. They provided input and information very
promptly and were always willing to make a phone call or write an
“official letter” when necessary.